With the summer half over by now, places like Pinterest are flooded with back to school checklists and quizzes to determine if children are ready for kindergarten this fall. Scattered among those checklists and quizzes are questions about pencil grasp development. They all seem to ask, “Does your child have it, or not?”

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pencil grasp development in kindergartners -  Playdough to Plato.2

As a parent, you might be wondering at what age you should be encouraging correct pencil grasp, or at what age you should begin to worry about your child’s pencil grasp. There are several distinct stages that most children work their way through when learning how to correctly hold a pencil, and because of this, pencil grasp development is much more complex than some might think.

This is the final post in a series of three where I go in depth about pencil grasp development. The first post I shared how baby’s first grasps develop into the beginning pencil grasps common for toddlers. Then, I shared how preschoolers transition from those common grasps used by toddlers into a grasp that is more developed and allows more control. Finally, today I will share what a proper pencil grasp looks like and when parents should begin to worry about their child’s pencil grasp.

Pencil Grasp Development in Kindergartners

As a child’s fine motor muscles in the hands, fingers and wrists become stronger, their pencil grasp will change to reflect that added strength. Between the ages of four and seven years, most children will develop the desired tripod grasp recommended by pediatricians and occupational therapists.

tripod grasp - Playdough to Plato

The tripod grasp is where the thumb and pointed finger pinch the pencil. (Remember I mentioned the importance of the pincher grasp in the first post about pencil grasp development in babies?) The pencil rests on the middle finger, which is also touching the pad of the thumb. The ring and pinkie fingers are tucked under for added support, but do not actually touch the pencil. With the tripod grasp, the pencil is held at more of an angle, not vertical to the paper as is seen with the cylindrical grasp.

The tripod grasp is the most mature pencil grasp. It allows more flexibility and mobility in the hand and wrist, allowing for dynamic movement, thus giving more control. This allows children to accurately and efficiently write letters and draw intricate patterns. It allows for the most dexterity in writing, as well as other fine motor activities that may be required, such as a professional jeweler beading pearls between links on a gold chain, or a plastic surgeon doing sutures.

Closely related to the tripod grasp is the quadruped grasp, which is actually how I hold my pencil.

quadruped grasp - Playdough to Plato

For a long while, only the tripod grasp was accepted as correct, but now many occupational therapists and pediatricians are accepting the quadruped grasp as long as writing can be produced effortlessly and legibly. The quadruped grasp is nearly identical to the tripod grasp with the exception that instead of the middle finger being tucked under the pencil, the pad of the middle finger helps pinch the pencil between the thumb and the pointer, leaving the pencil to rest on the ring finger. Thus, four fingers touching the pencil instead of only three. The quadruped grasp offers the nearly the same mobility as the tripod grasp, which is why is has become more common.

When Should You Worry?

In many cases, pencil grasp development will work itself out. There is a fair amount of research that states pencil grasp doesn’t actually impact legibility. But, there are some reasons for intervention:

  • Stress on the joints of the wrist and hand – If a child has not developed the strength needed to adequately hold a pencil, she may try locking her joints to gain the control needed. This causes unnecessary stress which can have adverse side effects later in life.
  • Fatigue and/or pain during actual writing – A child who uses an immature pencil grasp may experience physical pain and fatigue as she writes. This is problematic because it can lead to avoidance behaviors. If the physical act of writing is difficult, a child is likely to fight it.
  • Compromised writing speed – There is no need to be a “speed writer,” but children do need to write at a speed appropriate for their age and development. The reason for this is that if a child is using an inferior pencil grasp that is causing slow writing, she may have trouble completing in-class assignments in a timely manner.

For More Information

Please note that I am an experienced preschool teacher, not an occupational therapist nor a pediatrician. This information is provided to you via my own research. If you have questions or concerns, please direct them to the appropriate specialist.

For more information about pencil grasp development, please check out the following links:

Difficulties in Writing by Dr. Mel Levine

Pencil Grip: a Descriptive Model and Four Empirical Studies by Ann Sophie Selin

Comparison of Pencil-Grip Patterns in First Graders With Good and Poor Writing Skills by Colleen M. Schneck

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  1. I’ve always wondered about my 6 year-old’s pencil grasp. Thank you for this information. I am going to worry less about his grasp for now and work on hand strength and writing those letters a little neater.

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